I hesitate before sharing my opinions these days. The problem is that I am optimistic in a time of great stress. My optimism might seem uncaring to those who are suffering. Here is what I want to say. The promised land lies just ahead.

For nearly two years we’ve suffered the pain of sequestration, isolation, and dislocation. We have been fearful, frustrated, and heartbroken. Yet, I remain hopeful. Not longing for how it was before, but looking forward to a promised land.

Consider how we endured the Covid Pandemic. We benefitted from the greatest innovations and accomplishments of our time. The scientific and technological advances of modern times kept most of us safe from severe illness or financial distress. Vaccinations were created in months and hundreds of millions are now protected. The internet permitted commerce to continue and work at home to be productive. Entertainment choices expanded with new streaming services.  Even the government was successful in assisting millions of Americans with financial relief checks, small business loans, rent moratoriums, and student loan payment abatements. The world was challenged by Covid-19 and its variants, yet people in developed countries had much to celebrate.

In Moses’ final speech in Torah, he recounts the fear, frustration, and heartbreak of the 40-year journey through Sinai. Even as he chastises the people for their foibles and infidelities, he sets before them the miracles of their times. In the presence of enemies, the Jewish approach is to notice the banquet of life.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein taught this lesson in the context of the fast day, the ninth of Av (Tisha B’av, July 17 -18, 2021). Just as Jews observed a day of sadness for the destruction of the Temples, both first and second, the more important day might be the tenth of Av.  The day after destruction we get up from the ashes and reimagine our world.  On the tenth of Av we begin a process of renewal demonstrating resilience, ingenuity, and faith.

Let’s not merely hit the restart button as we emerge from our covid cocoons. With your hopefulness for kindness, safety, and justice, let’s work to build a reimagined world.

Natalie Merchant sang the anthem for this moment:

“These are the days you might fill with laughter until you break
These days you might feel a shaft of light
Make its way across your face
And when you do you’ll know how it was meant to be”

Rabbi Evan Krame

A very smart woman I know chose not to get vaccinated. She had already been infected with Covid and reasoned that she now had the necessary antibodies. Now she complains that without a vaccination card, businesses may bar her from entry, punishing her because of her choice not to vaccinate. She could have chosen the rewards of vaccination to avoid denunciation, exclusion, and isolation. Yet, human beings don’t always apply simple, studied logic to real-life choices, even to avoid the penalties.

Choices are set out before us for good and for bad. These choices are particularly vexing when it comes to our health. Eat the celery or eat the cake? Get the vaccine or go without? It all seems simple until we hesitate just long enough to incorporate personal predilections into the process.

Parshat Reeh begins with a simple choice and admonition. “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse; blessings if you obey the commandments . . . curse if you do not obey.” I hope that people will choose the path of blessings. All they have to do is obey the commandments. Yet, people make the wrong choices. Were it otherwise, Moses would not even present the curses to us!

Why do we make the wrong choices? Why eat the cake? Why not take the vaccine? There are two answers to explore – personal choice and heuristic thinking.

In a news report, I watched a gaggle of medical professionals declared that they were not convinced that the vaccine was safe. Rather than choose caution they asserted personal privilege. One person adapted the pro-choice slogan: “my body, my choice.” Americans believe so strongly in personal freedom, many are willing to wager or sacrifice their lives for that conviction.

The other impediment to choosing blessings is heuristic thinking. Our desires, biases, and fears override our ability to make propitious choices. We fail to make the best decisions because the process gets muddied with our own emotional, irrational muck.

Famed Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky researched biases in decision-making. Their research focused on heuristic technique, an approach to problem-solving that is not optimal, perfect, or rational, but is nevertheless sufficient for reaching an immediate, short-term goal or approximation. Their Nobel Prize-winning contribution, prospect theory, poured real, irrational, only human behavior into the process of decision making, enabling a much more powerful prediction of how individuals really choose between risky options.

When making choices involving risk to health, most will pick the blessing of health, the responsible choice. As President Biden reminded us, “with freedom comes responsibility.” Moreover, the healthy decision-maker will take time to dismiss desires, biases, and fears that cloud decision-making. The curse of a bad choice may harm you and others around you.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

“Every age has its signature afflictions,” wrote the Korean-born philosopher Byung-Chul Han in his book The Burnout Society.  Burnout is that feeling of exhaustion and even depression that follows an ordeal. The “signature affliction” of our time has been the Corona Virus.  As we emerge, what words or wisdom do we need to propel us forward? Torah may have some answers.

At the start of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of Torah, we behold an exhausted and cantankerous Moses speaking to the worn-out and hesitant Hebrews. Forty years of torturous Sinai journeying is at an end as is Moses’ time as leader. Moses himself is suffering from burnout. Sinai living was not lifestyle magazine-worthy. The sequestration, the lack of water, and the hostility among the tribes made life arduous for all.

Moses is at the end of a difficult leadership tenure. He will not be continuing into that promising future. The people gather around him to pay attention.  They quit their complaining to listen. They review the challenges overcome and anticipate the promised land.

As a leader, Moses delivers a speech to compel the people forward.  What words did Moses offer to encourage the people? Go up! Take possession of your future. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be disheartened.

During 17 months of coronavirus, much of it spent sequestered, we had our own smaller scale Sinaitic experience.  We have been isolated from the world, terrified of an unseen pathogen. Many are burned out by the anxiety.

For a healthy transition, we can again hear Moses. Be strengthened by appreciating how we endured the challenges of the past two years. Look forward to the possibilities before us. Pay attention to moral and ethical leadership.

The Hebrews were accustomed to living a nomadic life in an arid and rocky peninsula. The transition to a promised land required a mental realignment. Some were resistant and stiff-necked while others were eager to press forward.

Today, many long for the halcyon days when we fearlessly boarded public transportation, packed Broadway theaters, and jammed into elevators. But the promised times ahead will offer a new reality. Perhaps face masks will be de rigueur.  We might redesign public spaces. Priority will be given to virus research.  Those are elements of the promised land we hope to enter. Constructing a safer future is one counterbalance to the burnout we feel.

We might not have a Moses who can gather and motivate the people. But the words and wisdom to combat our own burnout are already with us. They were given over three thousand years ago and remain as potent today; take possession of your future and set aside your fear.

Rabbi Evan Krame


A local rabbi condemned Israel in a recent social media post. I was frustrated and agitated as I read the harsh rebuke. I held onto that angst for weeks. And then I read the Torah of parshat Mattot-Masei for this week and I gained a new understanding.

As the Hebrews meandered through the wilderness the Midianites confronted them.  God ordered revenge.  “Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Let men be picked out from among you for a campaign, and let them fall upon Midian to wreak the LORD’s vengeance on Midian.” Numbers 31.

The text continues to provide particulars of the campaign. The slaughter of men. The slaughter of women.  The slaughter of male children. No gruesome detail was spared. In the past, I might have dismissed this “book of war” as a myth. If I am honest about my response to any conflagration, I must read this Torah as a history of the nature of people-kind.

The paradigm of revenge drives people to do violence. Incendiary balloons are heinous random attacks on Israel.  The targeted bombing of terrorist cells is needed but still odious. I am not decrying the need for a strong defense which sometimes requires preemptive strikes. I am merely learning from Torah, that we must also confront our own propensity toward violence. Even if our cause is in the service of the Lord’s vengeance, are we nonetheless dissolute, if not sinful 

I believe that Torah is asking us to be strong and resolute, even using violence against our enemies. At the same time, I understand Torah to be a blueprint for constructing a better world. With that in mind, I understand the detailed recounting of the campaign against the Midianites as an example of what we hope to avoid as a righteous nation and treasured people.

Knowing my own love of Israel and proud Zionist proclivities, I will always be perturbed by attacks on Israel when in conflict with its enemies.  Now, I hope to add another layer to my response. We must abhor both the aggression that precipitates a violent response even as we regret our own need to respond with force. Even as I laud the Israeli military’s might I understand the need for a strong dose of remorse. Jews must always strive to fulfill the prophetic vision of Isaiah, turning our swords into ploughshares. Otherwise, Torah is merely a book of war.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame


I am easily entertained for hours doing family history research on the internet. And I love watching the PBS show Finding Your Roots. Some describe the recent uptick in genealogical interest as a modern phenomenon.  I don’t understand genealogy to be a fad but rather an ongoing search for meaning.

Many times, Torah recites the Jewish family tree.  In fact, the book commonly called Exodus is known in Hebrew as “shemot” which means names, because it opens with the lineage of the Hebrews who decamped for Egypt. Trudging through the fourth book, Numbers, there is yet another census and listing of notable family members. By repeatedly listing family names, Torah demonstrates a basic truth about our need to connect with people of a common background.

Like Torah, I often return to recounting the people in my family history. I delighted in the stories my grandmother told about her home in Ukraine and the fear of Cossacks. I questioned my parents about the bootleggers and bar owners in our family. As I continue expanding my family tree, I am drafting a personal book of Shemot.

To date, I have identified 122 relatives. I spent long hours reading public records. I sent emails to possible relatives, often with no reply.  And yet, I continue my searching.  Given the tediousness of the task, I am sure that my motivation is more than a need for more screen time.

Here is what I have concluded.  While I have many relatives I can name, I have few with whom I have a caring relationship. I don’t believe that my situation is at all rare. With increasing mobility, both upward mobility in terms of economic resources and geographic mobility in terms of opportunities to live and work almost anywhere, the modern family unit has splintered. With that splintering of the family, emotional and spiritual needs went unmet.

I have scores of cousins across this country I have never met. The family that first lived in Manhattan migrated to Brooklyn or the Bronx. The next generation went to Connecticut or Florida or California or Maryland. Before the break-up of AT&T (when long-distance calls were costly), and before the internet (when we used the Whitepages), and before FaceTime (when we bought train tickets to see family), maintaining communication among family members was arduous. Meaningful and grounding familial relationships were waning.

Family fights account for further ruptures. Remember that time that one uncle switched to a different table at the bar mitzvah upsetting the seating plan? Or was it the fight over an inheritance? Am I missing out on relationships with wonderful family because of a perceived slight or ill-timed comment?

Tracking the displacement of my extended family revealed to me the basic desire to connect with people in a shared history. My genealogical search is my hope of reconnecting the dissociated family. 

I anticipate enhancing my life with the conviviality and collegiality of extended family. I yearn to be part of an extended family hoping that life lived in the context of a large family will add meaning and comfort. Perhaps my searching will identify new stories to tell and create new friendships. Rather than pursuing a fad, genealogical research is my quest for fulfillment.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

family photos.jpg

Singing on Shabbat is what transforms the day into a spiritual delight. Even as the pandemic ebbs, many are not yet ready to sing with a group. How I miss singing with my friends in services and at dining room tables! Don’t give up on singing because it may be the starting point to transforming the world.

In Parshat Chukat, Numbers 19:1 – 22:1, Miriam dies. The well that followed her through the dessert dried up. The wandering Hebrews needed water. They complained bitterly to Moses in despair. God instructed Moses to speak to the rock at Meribah to produce water. Rather, Moses, who was likely exasperated, tired and disheartened, hit the rock.  This instance of faithlessness was the basis for God refusing Moses’ entry into the Promised Land.

With further wandering and water again lacking, God gave Moses an instruction to assemble the people at Be’er “so that I might give them water.”  Be’er in Hebrew means well! There the people sang a song – “spring up O well”. Then the nobles loosened the earth and the chieftains dug out a well. Perhaps this time the people had faith in their leadership and God. Water sprang up from the earth.

The song of the people, as a demonstration of their faith, inspired the leadership to dig the well. The precursor to success was the encouragement of prayerful singing. Then, in a combined effort, the tribal heads provided the needed relief through collaborative efforts. While the water was already there, access came only when the leadership pulled together to complete the task. What a model for our time! With song and collaboration, an urgent task was quickly completed.

The next steps in the story inform us how ordinary can be lifted to become extraordinary. The people continued their travels toward Canaan in the Midbar (wilderness) to three new stops in rapid succession. The first stop was Matanah (a gift). The second stop was Nahaliel (an inheritance from God). The third stop in this progression was Bamoth (high places). Note that the word Bimah which is the elevate platform in synagogue comes from the same root letters as Bamoth.

We have no indication that any of these three places were particularly meaningful or pleasant.  In fact, one could read Torah such that these were not physical but rather spiritual places. Once a people come together with song, cooperation, and faith they moved from being in the wilderness to residing in a holy place, even if they haven’t travelled at all.

Torah reminds us that God, like water, is the source of life. With faith, we transform what might have appeared to be a mere gift into an inheritance from God. Holiness is recognizing that we can reside in the high places, elevating our lives with the realization that these are inheritances from God.

One way we bring down holiness is by lifting our voices. The transformation of ordinary to extraordinary continues with collaboration.  The process reaches holiness with awareness that the source of our lives is Divine. Then we return to songs of praise, hallelujah!

The prayer songs we need today are songs of hope. We start the demand for justice with voices raised in song, (“We shall overcome”). We bring healing to those who are sick with soothing song (“misheberach”).  We are called to protect our planet when we hear the song of the animals, the birds, the whales, and even the cicadas.

After the singing comes cooperation which is the way to quench thirst in the droughts of our time – Covid 19 and other diseases, the subjugation of and hatred toward minorities, and the burning up of our planet. We need more cooperation to overcome the plagues of our day, to quench the burning issues of disease, racism, anti-Semitism, ecological disaster and more.

Most poignantly, we need faith. Despair anticipates destruction. Cooperation and hope make manifest progress. After all, the water the people needed was there all along, just waiting to be found! All that was required to find the water was a song, collaboration, and faith.

Whether your role is to sing out in prayer, cooperate in leadership, or inspire others with faith, each of us has a role to play. If we will only act in recognition that our lives are gifts from God, every place will be like a bimah, elevated in holiness.

In this way Torah teaches us that our wanderings can become discoveries, and our wilderness converted to altars. The first step might be to lift your voices in song. So, keep singing and believing friends.  Shabbat shalom.

Bayard Rustin was one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s early advisers. He organized the freedom riders of the 1940s and 50s and the historic 1963 “March on Washington.” In the late 1960s, however, he came under savage attack from a new generation of young black leaders who felt that he was a “sell-out” because he urged blacks to support the labor movement and the Democratic Party. I was reminded of Bayard Rustin by this week’s Torah reading, Korach.

Korach was a Levite of the priestly clan. He and 250 of his followers verbally assault Moses and Aaron, then the old guard leadership.  Moses had long led the people out of slavery to Sinai. But his successes and humility seemed to have been forgotten.  Korach challenged Moses as if Moses were a demagogue asking, “why do you raise yourself up above others?”

Bayard Rustin also led Americans up from oppression toward promised freedoms. Bayard Rustin was old enough to have heard firsthand reports of how Blacks in the South lost their rights in the late 19th century by the actions of white supremacist legislatures. In response to the Jim Crow South, Rustin became a champion for civil rights.

Bayard Rustin’s efforts through non-violent action began in the 1940s. By the mid-1960s and the Civil Rights Act, Black Americans had made substantial advances. But Rustin feared a similar backlash against those civil rights gains.  Rustin astutely recalled that history tends to repeat itself, just as Blacks had lost rights first gained after the Civil War.

Mr. Rustin saw the Democratic Party and the labor movement as bulwarks against any effort to repeat such a roll back of civil rights. He urged Black Americans to be active participants in these organizations. However, newer and more aggressive leadership rejected mainstream approaches as too much of a compromise. They attacked Rustin much the way Korach upbraided Moses.

Rustin’s faith in democratic systems was strong. It formed the basis of his support for Israel.  He was perhaps the strongest African American friend of Israel ever to take a leadership role in progressive political circles. Just like Moses, he understood the promise of that land.

Moses soon prevailed over Korach and his followers. Bayard Rustin’s legacy is also a triumph over the radicalized approach toward advancing civil rights.  We enjoy a much-improved America due to his devotion to democratic principles and legal processes.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Falling into a Facebook trap, I recently got ensnared engaging, if not fighting, in a cascade of political posts. The problem is not Facebook. The problem is thinking that there is value to a heated public debate to successfully pursue how we improve this world.  Upon reflection, I found that Jewish wisdom teaches us better ways to engage.

If you are even a casual Facebook participant, you will have likely become dyspeptic over the political vitriol being expressed.  One “Facebook Friend” posted if you don’t agree with my views, you can unfriend me!”  I obliged him. Farewell Facebook Fanatic! That is when I realized that Facebook presents a case for why we need Jewish wisdom.

Here’s my take on how to engage on Facebook, and keep it become Fa(r)cebook. The first step is to begin any exchange by asking questions. That insight comes from Parshat Sh’lach, Chapter 13 of the Book of Numbers. God instructs: “Send men to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people;” The first step to a meaningful online conversation is to be a seeker of information. Don’t be satisfied with first impressions. Act as if you are taking notes for other people.

The second step is a collaborative approach to resolve issues. The Torah continues: “send one (wo)man from each of their ancestral tribes, . . .” In this simple directive, there is a better approach. If there is a challenge to be investigated, view your conversation as a collaborative effort, even as representatives of various interests.

The third step is to ask good questions.  You have probably heard the story of Isidor I. Rabi, the Nobel laureate in physics who died Jan. 11, who when asked by Arthur Sackler, ”Why did you become a scientist?” answered ”My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’”

What we see on Facebook are oft-repeated violations of these simple rules.  Either we post conclusory statements, or we respond with demonstrative language. While Facebook may have taken on a more common place for debate during the pandemic, these insights are not just for Facebook. Our face-to-face interactions are rebooting. So let’s prioritize the exploration of facts and the pursuit of truths that matter with genuine inquisitiveness. Let’s practice by having conversations where we ask questions that lead to collaborative reasoning.

I am learning how to make asking good questions my default response. It will take some effort. And I’m not giving up Facebook. I’m just trying to stop engaging in Fa(r)cebook!

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

This year, count the plagues of Covid-19:

the red runny nose,

the frog in the throat,

the scratchiness,

stinging irritations,

loss of taste and smell,

the choking sensation,

body swarmed by fever,

a hailstorm of disease,

the confusion of darkness, and

the loss of life.

Recalling the plagues reminds us that a better future is often accompanied by pain and loss. In every generation we are required to feel as if we too were Hebrews in Egypt, being enslaved and witnessing plagues. Perhaps that task was made easier this year by the pandemic. Many of us felt trapped by Covid-19. The seder of 5780 last year was about enduring challenging times.  While stuck in our homes, as the angel of death circled like a vulture. We longed for escape from the confinement.

Four seasons have passed. The pandemic still binds us. But these plagues must be a memory that compel us to expand health care and bring healing. We will tell our children’s children to see themselves as if they lived through a pandemic, so that this lesson will never be lost.

This Passover, emerging from the narrowness of our quarantines, we are not quite liberated. The joy of getting vaccinated is tempered by the confusion of how we regain our pre-covid freedoms. Can I get together with friends? Can I walk slowly through a mall? Will we sing and dance again? Can we sit shoulder to shoulder in prayer?

The Jewish answer is to have hope. Our religious traditions are born of optimism that even from the darkest yesterdays come the brightest tomorrow. The essence of Passover is about courage and faith to move forward from the greatest of challenges.

In the spirit of hope, let’s try something special this Passover. The first seder is our seder of the past. We will remember and we will celebrate. Then, on the seventh night, we will gather again to plan our re-emergence. This will be our seder of the future, a seventh-night seder.

The idea is not original. There is already a tradition of a seder at the start of Passover and another at the finish. The first one is called Pesach Lishovar, the Passover of the past, and the other is called Pesach Latid, the Passover of the future. This seder of the future has been called the Moshiach’s seder, a seder anticipating a messianic time.

The messiah concept is difficult for many because the messiah is associated with an after-life. That is not the only understanding. For the prophet Isaiah, the messiah comes to liberate and re-soul the living, not raise the dead.

Our hope for a messiah is engrained in Passover celebrations. Toward the end of the Seder we open the door for Elijah, the prophet who was thought to herald the messianic time. We close the seder with a foreshadowing of the future.  And now we add the national anthem of Israel, HaTikvah, which means “the hope.”

The seventh-night seder is about preparing ourselves to welcome a better world. On that night, we see ourselves as if we are at the edge of the sea, ready to leap into the future.  We can anticipate a better world with our whole selves and our holy selves. We will sing out our hopes. We will celebrate our love.  We will rejoice in our freedom.  And we will plan for tomorrow.

Please join us on April 2 at 6:30 p.m. as we welcome Shabbat and a better future. ZOOM HERE!

May we find inspiration in a seder of liberation and potentiality.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame